Informing the IBM Community

Opinion: How to make your work on IBM i look good (so the platform doesn’t get replaced).



I would like to share with you a photo of my granddad dressed in a sparkly disco dancing outfit.

Not really! But that’s what some people think I’m suggesting when I tell them they need to fancy up and modernise their IBM i green screens. Well, I have some breaking news for those people: green on black is the new web GUI.

Let me set a scene. You have worked for 20 or maybe 30 years developing in RPG and RPG/ILE on one of the most reliable, solid, and securable computer systems ever made and you are proud of it. You like the green screen – no you don’t, you LOVE the green screen – and why shouldn’t you? It has made you a good living and, despite what people say, it is still as popular as ever.

The problem is that you are wrong. If you strongly condone the statement above, then you may be among the group that has been working on the IBM box since “way back when” and you have sometimes been accused of sticking your head in the sand.

The fact is that the superb standards, repeatable and structured methodologies and the flexibility of the technology supporting the green screen interface is amazing, but the interface itself is its biggest downfall. If we don’t do something and embrace change, it could be the final nail in the coffin for IBM i.

Why do we need to modernise? In my opinion, there are many reasons. One is fashion; things just need to look modern and sexy. I remember a presenter saying to me when talking about securing web traffic: “We must always practice safe hex.” That was his attempt at being modern. But I digress…

Instant access

Another reason for modernisation is that the pace of our lives has accelerated and now our demands for data access are immediate. I expect near-instant access to the internet to look up anything and everything.

I expect an app that gives me access to my bank account. I must know what song is playing on the car radio the moment it comes on. I expect to be able to check traffic data, travel routes, look at maps, check my insurance details, contact my breakdown service, or book flights – all graphically. I expect it and I expect it wherever I am at whatever time of day or night.

What you may not realise is that the back-end data for a lot of the applications I have just mentioned are hosted on IBM Power Systems servers running the IBM i operating system. But the traditional green screen, green-on-black, or GOB interface is not what customers wish to use anymore. Imagine trying to use green screen on an iPhone!

So which should I use? IBM i green screen or web front-end? Both! You heard right, I said both. You need to appeal to your audience and your audience is not made up of just one type of person.

For the traditional or “retro” clients, as I like to call then, you should continue with green screen. However, you do definitely, 100 per cent, can’t argue with, must not fight against, I absolutely cast iron promise you, need web enablement and mobile applications.

By having both, you also appeal to newcomers to the job market. Interns and recent university graduates have grown up with graphical, speedy, safe, “hexy” front-ends. What’s more, they are happy to work on trains, planes and automobiles with hand-held devices and tablets rather than pull out a laptop to try to get the most out of its 90-minute battery life.

Bodybuilder in a trash bag

Never forget that the underlying architecture – your IBM i – is sound, reliable and trusted. The development resources working on the platform are experienced, mature and structured. As I mentioned earlier, the only downside I can think of is the presentation layer.

I would make the analogy of spending the best part of your life in the gym and eating healthily to create an uber-efficient, well-toned, strong and secure body and then dressing yourself in a trash bag. You know that what’s underneath is a solid foundation but nobody else knows or cares because the presentation is so ugly. The same is true of how the green screen presents IBM i.

What can you do to make sure you work on IBM i looks good in your organisation so that the platform doesn’t get replaced? Make it look modern, make it quick to use, and make the user experience a great one.

Attract them to the platform by making it look sexy, sleek, and intuitive all while performing well and being the backbone – and the front-of-house – for your company’s IT staff, its employees’ access to data and your clients’ access to your solutions.

Look, I know I haven’t given you step-by-step details on how to make your work on IBM i look good. I haven’t provided you a recipe from a cookbook. What I have provided is an opinion: my vision of what you need to achieve and why.

I’m also leading by example. I can point you to many HelpSystems solutions that offer web and mobile-friendly interfaces to demonstrate what the end result can look like. We have done that hard work for you, and our continuous improvement program will ensure we are modern and functionally rich in the future.

If nothing else, I hope I’ve helped to raise awareness and provoke discussion on why you need to modernise. And sure hope I have helped, if even in the smallest way, to ensure that IBM i and Power Systems remain the primary choice for reliable, secure applications and application availability at your business.

Donnie MacColl is the director of EMEA technical services at HelpSystems.

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